DAMASCUS, Syria, 25 March 2003 (Reuters) -- Hundreds of thousands of
angry Syrians marched through the streets of Damascus on Tuesday
demanding an immediate end to the U.S.-led war against Iraq, their
fellow-Arab neighbor and former enemy.
"Stop murdering Iraqis now," read one banner. "Iraq is the symbol of
the Arab nation," said another slogan, surrounded by Iraqi and Syrian
Traffic police estimated the number of marchers at several hundred
thousand, and said demonstrations were also taking place in other
Syrian cities. The government, which strongly opposes the war,
allowed civil servants to stop work to join the march.
"We sacrifice our souls and blood for Iraq," chanted the
demonstrators as they burned U.S. and British flags and spat on
pictures of U.S. President George W. Bush covered with red paint
Members of the crowd called Bush a "pig" and a "criminal" and
described British Prime Minister Tony Blair as Bush's "lackey and
Marchers also yelled abuse at the leaders of Egypt, Jordan, Qatar and
Kuwait, accusing them of supporting the war. They called
Jordan's 'King' Abdullah a Zionist and Egyptian President Hosni
Mubarak a "dollar worshipper," and said the Gulf Arab states' leaders
Hundreds of riot police and other security officers threw up road
blocks in streets leading to the U.S. Embassy, which was stormed by
an angry crowd in 2000.
The marchers demanded that Syria expel the U.S. and British envoys
and close down their embassies. "We say it out loud, we do not want
to see their embassies (in Damascus)," they chanted.
Syrians' anger at the invaders of Iraq was fuelled by news that U.S.
and British aircraft had bombed a bus in Iraq carrying Syrian
laborers home, killing five and wounding more than 10.
Some protesters carried pictures of the victims.
The United States said the bombing on Sunday night was an accident
and expressed its regrets to the families of the dead.
Syria, the only Arab country with a seat on the U.N. Security
Council, opposes the current war on Iraq, in contrast with the 1991
Gulf war when it contributed troops to the U.S.-led force that ended
the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait.